April 6, 2018 // 3:15 p.m.
Cryptocurrency is one of the hottest topics in tech (just in case you hadn't noticed). It's been around in some form for close to 10 years, but only in the last couple has it really shot to such popularity as we see now. Fuelled by huge bubbles and bursts, stories of extremely rapid wealth accumulation, multi-million-dollar hacks, and ties to shady and outright criminal enterprises, cryptocurrency sounds like the stuff of fiction and is now regularly featured in the articles and broadcasts of mainstream news outlets. It has also unsurprisingly spawned innumerable articles, websites, podcasts, and YouTube channels dedicated to covering it.
Like it or not, PC hardware enthusiasts and gamers are directly impacted by this surge in popularity. In particular, low stock of graphics cards and high prices when they are in stock have been frustrating such customers for some time now, and it's largely a result of high demand fuelled by cryptomining, whereby people exchange their computational power for chunks of cryptocurrency imbued with real-world value.
Since this is bit-tech, this feature will largely approach cryptocurrency and mining from a hardware perspective. First, though, we'll need to delve into what exactly cryptocurrencies are, which necessitates an exploration of blockchain technology and “mining” as well. This will make clear exactly why hardware – in particular graphics processing units (GPUs) – is so intricately linked to the topic. After this, we'll investigate mining in detail, looking at how you do it, pitching current AMD and Nvidia hardware against each other, and hopefully helping to assess whether or not it's worth it for you, in the process highlighting issues outside of more obvious ones like hash rates, power consumption, and hardware costs that you may also want to consider.
One final note before we get started: We present this feature as neutral observers exclusively for informative purposes. We're not trying to recommend that anyone begins or abstains from mining cryptocurrencies, merely to try and ensure that whatever decision you do come to is more informed than it might otherwise have been.